Poetry Potion had the pleasant opportunity to pose some questions to Lorelle Viegi one of the curators of the 2008 Spier Poetry Exchange…
POETRY POTION: What is the Spier Poetry Exchange?
LORELLE VIEGI: The event is a week long festival dedicated to bringing together a selection of poets, presenting a diverse range of poetry and sharing their experiences, views and outlook on the genre. The emphasis of the festival is very much centred around the idea of exchange, presenting a platform for interaction, dialogue and creative input.
PP: How long has the festival been running and what are its achievements?
LV: The festival has been running for 3 years. For 2 years as the Spier Open Air Poetry Festival and this year as the Spier Poetry Exchange.
PP: How does the Poetry Exchange fit in with the other Spier/Africa Centre arts events?
LV: It is one of 3 arts festival, the other 2 being the performance festival and the music festival to be held later this year. All 3 festivals are committed to celebrating and promoting artistic excellence in South Africa and the African continent as well as accessing international artists and performers.
PP: What is the relationship between Spiers and Africa Centre?
LV: The Africa Centre was set up by Spier as an independent entity (click here for the Africa Centre document)
PP: What was your role in the festival?
LV: I jointly curated with Malika Ndlovu. That involved selection [of the poets and performers], devising the festival programme, liaising with festival partners, overall co-ordination, logistical and administrative functions, etc.
PP: How do you select the poets?
LV: Representation of [various] voices, styles, profiles and backgrounds are quite central to this process, particularly in the South African context. Poets range from page orientated [poets] to the oral and performance genres. It was important that poetry was explored to its fullest manifestation. So, it was about presenting poetry in the widest possible sense. Four poets were also brought by the Winterenachten Festival, based in The Hague, which engages poets and writers from previous Dutch colonies, is held annually in the Netherlands. The festival also travels with contingents of these artists outside of the Netherlands to countries linked by a history of Dutch colonisation.
PP: How do poets get involved in the festival i.e. is there a way of submitting work for consideration?
LV: Poets were invited to participate, but there is nothing stopping poets from getting in touch with queries.
PP: Why the exchange between international and South African poets?
LV: Exchange of ideas, debate, dialogue, particularly in the creative arts is essential for growth, expansion and building strong networks. The exchange was not just between South African and international poets, but also between South Africa poets, with young poets, with poetry enthusiasts and with the public in general.
PP: Why did you see the need to set up satellite events around Cape Town?
LV: Mostly to make the festival programme accessible to a wider range of local poets and audiences. In this way, we were able to provide a platform for a large number of ‘peripheral’ Cape Town poets as well as provide them with the opportunity for interaction with the poets participating in the festival. In this way we were able to broaden the reach and scope of the exchange.
PP: What were some of the experiences of this year’s festival?
LV: Our experience of the festival as well as feedback received so far has been overwhelmingly positive. The diversity of voices, the representation of poetry, written, sung, performed was very well received. Appreciation was also expressed at the smooth running of events. No event of this scale is completely without hitches, but we were ultimately very pleased at the outcome. We are in the process of acquiring feedback from participants and are committed to the future growth and improvement of the festival.
PP: What is the role of Poetry festivals in the growth of poetry writing in South Africa?
LV: Poetry festivals have definitely contributed to an increased popularity and interest in the genre. Festivals have provided visibility and new channels of communication, reaching large numbers of poetry enthusiasts, encouraging and inspiring them to express themselves creatively.
PP: How does the Poetry Exchange encourage the reading and buying of poetry?
LV: This is extremely difficult to quantify. Poetry anthologies and CDs of all participating poets as well as others were on sale at the festival. It is hoped that by providing exposure for poets that the public will be encouraged to purchase their material.
PP: As performance poetry becomes more popular, what is the future of ‘Page Poetry’?
LV: We have tried to collapse these boundaries between page and performance poetry and presented poetry as a wide ranging genre expressed through different media. Performance poetry was also presented in its broadest form, i.e., not just spoken word, but sung, dramatised, etc. It is my own belief that performance poetry, far from posing a threat to page poetry, has actually reinvigorated interest in poetry as a whole.
PP: What space does published poetry have in the festival?
LV: If by published poetry, you mean ‘page’ poetry, then there will always be space for this convention. There is no intention to exclude any poetic voice that can make a valuable contribution to the festival.
PP: What is the future of the festival?
LV: To continue to grow and become an established brand for quality poetry. There is a three year vision for growth and expansion, linked to the philosophy of the Africa Centre that is already in place